ASTABED. The word astabid occurs in two Syriac texts as the title of a high-ranking Iranian officer and is applied to three different individuals: (1) the general Bōē, who was appointed by Kavād to arrange an armistice with the Roman general Celer but died in 505 before the negotiations were concluded (Joshua the Stylite, pars. 59, 80, 81, 95; tr. Wright, pp. 50, 64-65, 72-73); (2) Bōē’s successor in this role, who achieved the peace of 506 with the Romans (ibid., pars. 97-98; tr. Wright, p. 75. Cf. Stein, Histoire du Bas-Empire II, p. 99); (3) a high official appointed by Kavād to negotiate with Hypathius and Pharazman, the Roman emperor’s representatives, in 527, and apparently the same person as the astabid who commanded an army against the Romans in northern Mesopotamia a few years later (Zacharias the Rhetor, 8.5 and 9.4; ed. Brooks, CSCO pp. 77, 95; tr. pp. 53, 65). The second and third of these men could be one and the same.

Joshua the Stylite (tr. Wright, p. 50) defines astabid as “magister (militum) of the Persians.” The eminent Byzantinist E. Stein took a special interest in this office, surmising that it corresponded to the magister officiorum of the Romans and had been instituted by Kavād shortly before 503 for the purpose of weakening the authority of the wazurg framadār (“Ein Kapital,” pp. 52f.; Le Muséon, 1940, pp. 131-32). This hypothesis found some support and appears to have been adopted by Christensen (Iran Sass., pp. 136, 352, 521). If the word is read as astabid, the existence of an office with that title in Kavād’s reign will have to be acknowledged.

It should be noted, however, that the Byzantine authors name the first of the three men as Aspebedes (Procopius, De Bello Persico 1.9.24), Aspetios (Theophanes, Chronography, ed. I. Bekker, Bonn, 1838, I, p. 228), or Aspevedes (Photius, Bibliotheca 63; ed. R. Henry, Photius I, p. 66). Likewise the third astabid is clearly identifiable with the other Aspebedes mentioned by Procopius (op. cit., 1.21.4). These different Greek transcriptions are all likely to be distortions of the title spāhbed, lit. “army commander” (Justi, Namenbuch, p. 70; Zacharias, ed. Brooks, p. 73 n. 5; M. L. Chaumont, Le Muséon, 1968, pp. 234f.). It is therefore by no means improbable that in a common source used by the two Syriac chroniclers astabid had been wrongly written instead of aspabid, the normal Syriac form of the Pahlavi spāhbed, or perhaps asp(a)bed “chief of the cavalry” (cf. C. Lebeau, Histoire du Bas-Empire, ed. J. Saint-Martin, VII, 1827, p. 364 and n. 5).



Joshua the Stylite (Pseudo-Stylite), Chronicle, ed. and tr. W. Wright, Cambridge, 1882.

Zacharias the Rhetor, Historia Ecclesiastica, ed. E. W. Brooks, CSCO 84, Scriptores Syri 39 (III, 6), Louvain, 1921; ibid. 88, Syr. 42 (III, 6), Louvain, 1924.

See also M. L. Chaumont, Le Muséon, 1968, pp. 231-40.

E. Stein, “Ein Kapitel vom persischen und vom byzantinischen Staate,” Byzantinisch-neugriechische Jahrbücher I , 1920, pp. 50f.

Idem, review of Christensen, Iran Sass., in Le Muséon, 1943, p. 123f.

Idem, Histoire du Bas-Empire II, ed. J. R. Planque, Paris, 1949, pp. 98, 99 n. 5, 283, 292.

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(M. L. Chaumont)

Originally Published: December 15, 1987

Last Updated: August 17, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. II, Fasc. 8, pp. 825-826